Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Blow A Big Shofar -- Tribute to My Rebbe, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, shlit"a

This morning's New York Times featured a disturbing article about people in the ultra-Orthodox community who have been shunned for reporting cases of child abuse to authorities.

The article did not mention that Rabbi Rosenberg is a major Posek (halachic decisor) in the areas of Mikvaot and Hilchot Niddah.  I had the privilege of learning Hilchot Mikvaot (the laws of Mikvah construction) with Rabbi Rosenberg in the summer of 2004.  That opportunity was also a bit unusual and also speaks highly about Rabbi Rosenberg's character.

Rabbi Rosenberg is a firm believer in the importance of mikvaot.  He will fly anywhere in the world to consult on mikvah construction in a moment's notice and take no money for himself other than to cover his own expenses and the materials of the mikvah.  (He once left in the middle of shiur (class) because he got a call to go to India to build a mikvah).  So, when Rabbi Rosenberg was invited by my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer to teach mikvaot at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), Rabbi Rosenberg would not decline.

A good element of the Haredi world has taken issue with YCT for being too liberal of a yeshiva and the yeshiva has been the unfortunate victim of a smear campaign in the Haredi press, particularly on the pages of Yated Neeman.  Therefore, it could not have been a popular or respected choice in the Haredi world, for a major Haredi Rav to come teach there.  But, Rabbi Rosenberg felt that making sure young new Rabbis understood the intricate laws of building mikvahs and spreading mikvah observance was more important than Orthodox politics.  He did what was right despite being unpopular.

It didn't end there.  The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Linzer asked Rabbi Rosenberg if he would mind if Rabbi Linzer's wife, Devorah Zlochower joined in the shiur.  In Rabbi Rosenberg's world, women are not typically engaged in high level of Torah learning, and Haredi Poskim would not teach women halacha using the primary sources of Talmud and the Tur and Beit Yosef.  While Rabbi Rosenberg had never considered teaching women before, he reasoned this time -- if having a woman in the class would lead to better constructed mikvahs and more mikvah observance, then he would even allow women in the class.  A major step for his world -- but the right thing to do.

The class in Mikvaot only lasted 3 weeks, but throughout those three weeks, Rabbi Rosenberg was not only a brilliant teacher to learn from, but was also respectful and happy to learn from our perspectives despite having a very different religious outlook and background.

In describing specific mikvahs as case studies, Rabbi Rosenberg was so careful not to give any identifying information about the city a mikvah was located in so as not to speak lashon hara or cause unnecessary suspicions about the kashrut of a community's mikvah.

That fact speaks to the power of one case where Rabbi Rosenberg was involved in a dispute with a local Rabbi about a problem that needed to be fixed in the local mikvah.  Rabbi Rosenberg told the Rabbi that if he didn't fix it, that he (Rabbi Rosenberg) had a big shofar and would blow it to let everyone know of the problem.  At the time it sounded a bit extreme (and somewhat comical).

I have known for some years now about Rabbi Rosenberg's outspokenness on the issue of abuse in the Hardei community -- but I was not aware of the extent that his lead on this issue has come at great personal cost to himself.

Rabbi Rosenberg's videos on the subject can be seen here --

In one video he describes how his community has called him a "snake" and left him with very few places to daven.

I am proud that Rabbi Rosenberg has again stood up for what is right and not what is popular.  He has blown his big shofar to let not just his community know -- but to let the world know and for all the right reasons.

We read in Pirkei Avot, that in spite of only learning two things from Achitofel, David Hamelech calls him his Rebbi.  I only spent three weeks learning under Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, but I am still inspired by his constant motivation to speak out for and do what is right in the face of really tough opposition.  As such, I remain proud to call him Rebbi Umori Alufi Umeyudaii.

I will conclude saying that as a gift for a semicha, YCT presented our class with a big shofar.  Mine sits on my shelf and I blow it on some Rosh Hashanas.  I hope to learn from Rabbi Rosenberg's example to blow my big shofar and let the world hear it's call for justice and righteousness!

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